This story was updated Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at 10:46 p.m. with more information.
Chattanooga City Council races on Tuesday showed community support for incumbent council members who were re-elected, with runoffs set for April to fill two open seats, in District 2 and District 5.
Of the three council seats being vacated, only one was filled during Tuesday's general election. District 7 elected community advocate Raquetta Dotley over former mayoral chief of staff Ken Hays to replace councilman Erskine Oglesby. Oglesby will forfeit his seat at the end of this, his first term, after running unsuccessfully for mayor.
In the other two open districts — District 2, vacated by retiring councilman Jerry Mitchell, and District 5, vacated by councilman Russell Gilbert who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor — crowded fields forced runoff elections.
Hamilton County Board of Education Member Jenny Hill got 45.4% of the vote to replace Mitchell, and business owner Thomas Lee received 31.4%, meaning the two will proceed to a runoff election. Chemical engineer Tim Gorman was defeated, with 20% of the vote.
"District 2 has a bold vision for our city," Hill said Tuesday night. "The district is fortunate to have three solid candidates. Each of us ran an energetic campaign and put our all into the work."
Hill said continuing to have thoughtful conversations with District 2 voters and ensuring voters come back to the polls will be the focus in the coming weeks.
Lee said the results came in as expected, and because he didn't get as early a start as the other candidates, he's looking forward to further campaigning and helping the voters get to know him.
"I feel optimistic that given another six weeks to continue to tell my story and share with folks in District 2 what it is that I envision for the future of Chattanooga, hopefully we can convince enough of the folks that voted for the third candidate to swing into my camp," Lee said. "I'm cautiously hopeful that I can push this thing forward and take it to the finish line in round two."
Similarly, of the five candidates in District 5, Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Clark and entrepreneur Isaiah Hester led the pack with 35% and 31.1% of the vote respectively, leaving community activist Cynthia Stanley-Cash, Pastor Alan AJ Holman and church administrator Leanne Jones behind.
Clark said he and the campaign are confident in their chances in the runoff and are proud to have been on top against extremely strong candidates.
"We had strong endorsements come in for our side and we knew it was going to come to a runoff," Clark said. "Our message going forward will be our 'opportunity for all' campaign and letting the people of District 5 know that we're building our community back."
Sean Nix, campaign manager for Hester, said the campaign is ecstatic but there is still work to be done.
"We are building back a better District 5, and Isaiah Hester will work hard for everyone in District 5 for those who supported him and didn't support him," Nix said.
The runoffs between Hill and Lee, and Clark and Holman, will be held April 13. Early voting will run March 24 to April 8, and absentee ballot requests will be available starting on March 12.
Incumbents had a far easier evening.
Council members Ken Smith (District 3), Darrin Ledford (District 4) and Demetrus Coonrod (District 9) fended off challengers to earn another term, while Chairman Chip Henderson (District 1) and councilwoman Carol Berz (District 6) secured new terms in unopposed races.
District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd had the hardest battle of any incumbent, but managed to beat high profile community activist Marie Mott and UTC student D'Andre Anderson with 54% of the vote to secure a second term. Byrd could not be immediately reached Tuesday night for comment.
All council members elected Tuesday or in the runoff will begin their four-year terms after their swearing-in ceremony on April 19.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.